Byline: Katherine Bowers

TARZANA, Calif. — In her freesia-scented garden, Jane “Spider” Fawke riffles through her collection of vintage textiles, linens and garments for the best pieces, the “claps” — an expression she picked up while designing for Claude Montana.
“He’d say, ‘That’s a clap, baby!”‘ she said, recalling Montana’s habit of mimicking a standing ovation when particularly tickled by a designer’s work.
Fawke owns the textile art firm Spider Fawke, based in Tarzana, which collects non-copyrighted, vintage prints and resells them to designers and merchandisers at Nordstrom, Polo and elsewhere to use as design inspiration or for direct reproduction.
“It’s creation by proxy,” she said, adding that she loves to see beautiful art “reincarnated” this way.
Fawke, a gregarious Brit whose childhood nickname was “Spider” because of her long limbs, employs five textile hunters in Japan, Europe and the U.S. They scout church rummage sales, estate sales, flea markets and grandmothers’ attics for unique pieces. When her hunters vacation, they send back to Fawke care packages from their travels — recently including a belted, crocheted Sixties-era sweater from Australia. One hunter is currently on an extended trip to India, with strict instructions from Fawke.
“I literally can’t wait to see what I get back from there,” she said gleefully. “A lot of the wealthy people will send clothes to poor villages, so I think I’m going to get some incredible, recycled patchwork things.”
Most of her stock — some 2,000 remnants and 500 garments — is from the Fifties or earlier. Forties-era rayon prints are a specialty, and she gets great ones from her hunter in Japan with unusual flowers such as orchids and anemones.
She also keeps an eye out for old Hawaiian prints, which show an attention to detail that’s lost on most mass-market hibiscus prints. One of Fawke’s Hawaiian prints, for example, shows a fern leaf that has been nibbled by an insect.
“Her prints feel very right-now, which is the beauty of the feeling of the stuff she finds,” said Cynthia Pellettiere, design director for Nordstrom’s private label programs. “They’re old, but it feels so right.”
Bob Andrews, a vice president of men’s accessories design at Polo Ralph Lauren, agreed. “Sometimes, vintage prints can be ugly,” he said. “She has a good feel for things with a contemporary look to them and a very keen eye for what will sell in the market.”
Nordstrom’s Pellettiere recently bought several crocheted pieces that she will use to re-create elements of their detailing. She said she plans to copy exactly the five prints she bought.
Fawke guarantees the prints are free from copyright protection, meaning they can be reproduced exactly without provoking a lawsuit.
She instructs her hunters to look at remnants for copyright information along the selvage edge. She tries to find unlabeled garments with craft details that indicate they were hand- or tailor-made, a common practice prior to 1950. If a garment retains a label, she’ll research the company on the Internet or through chambers of commerce to learn if they are still operating.
From her years as a designer — her resume lists stints with Montana, Cacharel, Jean Charles de Castelbajac and Esprit — Fawke also knows what can be produced cost effectively.
“Some elaborate things — I sigh because it’s so beautiful,” she said. “But then I pass because it would be too expensive to reproduce.”
Looking forward, Fawke sees interest in “old Khurtas with exquisite embroideries,” small dense florals, tapestry brocades a la Prada and detailed botanicals.
“And bugs are back,” she said. “The cute ones.”

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